Asylum child poverty criticised

The government has dismissed a report criticising the suffering endured by children of asylum seekers.

Children’s charity Barnardo’s says those whose applications are caught up in the government’s “asylum backlog” for more than six months should be allowed to find work in Britain, helping lift their families out of poverty.

Its report, Like Any Other Child?, says such children are forced into uncomfortable housing and survive on below-normal benefit levels. Facing aggressive racial abuse and having to change schools frequently are common problems.

Martin Narey, Barnardo’s chief executive, said he accepted the government’s new model for dealing with applications, introduced this year, would seek to ensure all decisions on fresh cases would be made within six months.

But he expressed concern about previous cases still dealt with under the old system, the backlog of which is not expected to clear until 2011.

“For those whose cases have been languishing in the old system, often for years, there is a desperate need for a new approach and in particular a moral and economic case for allowing parents trapped in the backlog to work and support their children,” he said.

“Often they have skills the UK needs and they have no wish to live on government handouts. They seek only the right to give their children a better life and to recover some dignity for themselves.”

The report also calls for specialised case owners to take over responsibility for the welfare of children affected by asylum cases.

It says greater consideration of area should be taken during the housing process and demands parity with UK standards of temporary accommodation, but prioritises ending asylum seekers’ dependence on benefits as having the most potential to cut child poverty.

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesperson Chris Huhne said there was a “clear case” for such a move.

“Simply shoving asylum seekers into substandard accommodation for years while the government desperately tries to clear the backlog, is neither humane nor practical,” he commented.

Border and immigration minister Liam Byrne said the report fell “pretty wide of the mark”.

“I’m enormously grateful to Barnardo’s for the advice they give us but Britain’s debate about asylum is often an emotive one and it urgently needs balance, facts and evidence rather than soundbites,” he said.

Mr Byrne said asylum claims had dropped to a 15-year-low and added families with children were “among the top priority” for his department’s team of 900 staff dealing with the backlog.

“We will I’m afraid remove anyone with no right to be in the UK, as humanely as possible,” he added.